Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

New Capitalism – New Politics?

Posted by alicocksworth on June 22, 2009

Second home, anyone?

Second home, anyone?

The past six months have been dominated by discussions of the broken financial system and flawed ideologies. A crippling global recession has given rise to mass disillusionment with the fundamental principles of capitalism and called time on self-interest as acceptable motive in business conduct. The reverberations of the 2008 crash are still being felt within the real economy: in the UK, familiar high street names continue to disappear; repossessions are up 50% year-on-year, and unemployment is steadily climbing towards 3 million. In the States, just days ago, Barack Obama was forced to step in to save General Motors as it filed for bankruptcy. Talk of ‘green shoots’ is sporadic and unconvincing.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the UK is facing an equally profound political one. The MPs’ expenses scandal has laid bare a culture of legitimised corruption in Westminster; and the slow response from party leaders and their subordinates has exposed acute disengagement from the electorate.  Public anger previously directed towards Fred Goodwin and his ilk has not only shifted onto our politicians, but has intensified.  MPs are increasingly lumped together with ‘Fat Cats’, as there is a growing perception that bankers and politicians are motivated by the same greed and selfishness.  MPs with their hands in the till are aligned with the banks they bailed out, and as such, in opposition to the individuals and communities that elected them.

Reform, reform, reform

As the public outrage continues to grow, party leaders have fallen over themselves to propose a range of reforms. David Cameron delivered a speech touting a progressive Conservatism that set out ideas for a decentralised, ‘post-bureaucratic’ era. Nick Clegg has called for far-reaching reforms to be agreed within a hundred-day timetable. The Guardian recently produced a supplement entitled ‘A New Politics’, detailing wide-ranging suggestions, from fixed-term parliament to the removal of the monarchy.

There is a broad consensus both within and without the House of Commons that Westminster needs to modernise, it is a question of scale. The Jenkins Report has been on a back burner since it was completed in 1998 but it could now be rejuvenated; its recommendations – including electoral reform and further transformation of the second house – suddenly merit serious consideration. What is certainly clear as the political clean-up commences is that, as with the banking sector, self-regulation is simply no longer an option.

Apathy or activism?

Politicians are being forced to reassess the way they communicate. British politics has tried to learn from Barack Obama, whose campaign successfully used social media to engage with the electorate. The efforts so far have yielded mixed results – Gordon Brown’s YouTube debacle stands in clear contrast to John Prescott’s surprising success with blogging on his Go4th website.  There is a slow realisation that polls, focus groups and even the media cannot alone be trusted as accurate barometers of public sentiment.

The local elections have taken on an important new symbolism – a return to grassroots politics, an opportunity for the electorate to punish their representatives, an outlet for frustration. The public is demanding re-engagement from politicians.

The protest votes just in from the European and local elections could be brutally damaging to the main parties, as both UKIP and the Green Party have made significant gains.  The cocooned Westminster-centric perspective will not be allowed to endure: after decades of apathy, voters want to hold their representatives to account, demanding real transparency and the opportunity to scold with an audible voice.

MPs will try to realign themselves with their constituents: grassroots activism and constituency work will regain importance.  Politicians will have to demonstrate real interest in the communities they represent. Local politics though, is no longer just about street lamps or road works – it is now also about national issues in a local context. Politicians will have to recognise this and modify their communications appropriately.

Republic of Britain?

Is the ‘mother of all parliaments’ about to crumble? Will the monarchy be removed? Will the Speaker of the House finally stop employing someone to carry his train?

No. Just as capitalism emerges from the financial crisis battered but intact, so the expenses scandal will not raze the House of Commons to the ground.  MPs will probably remain ‘right’ and ‘honourable’, but the debate on the nature of UK politics will continue. Whatever the eventual reforms amount to, there will be a tangible shift in the way politicians conduct both themselves and their politics.

The reliance on polls and focus groups will by no means end, but real interaction in the constituency will take precedence.  In the aftermath of the local and European elections, any number of reforms may be implemented. The most significant change will be a more subtle cultural shift within Westminster as MPs return to a truly local, and ultimately more personal brand of politics.


Posted in clarkemulderpurdie, hothouse, politics, recession | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Fortune-telling and Fact

Posted by alicocksworth on February 27, 2009


Last week I went to a debate at LSE entitled: ‘Why Did Nobody Tell Us? Reporting the Global Crash of 08’. The event set out to explore why the media had failed to forecast the banking crisis and the gravity of its impact around the world. In spite of an all-star line up (Vince Cable MP, Evan Davis of Radio 4, Gillian Tett from the FT among others) I left disappointed. The problem wasn’t the speakers – the majority confirmed themselves first-class thinkers – but the limitations of the topic.

At this stage of proceedings it seems not only counter-productive but pretty uninteresting to delve back into the whys and wherefores of who should have clocked the magnitude of the problem and whose fault it was that they didn’t.

Two much more engaging questions emerged out of the evening: firstly, is it the media’s job to forecast world events?

Willem Buiter (FT contributor and academic) held not:

‘I don’t blame the media – they’re not supposed to see it coming. Prophets, scientists – they’re supposed to see things coming’.

I quite agree with him.

All this criticism of the media for failing to see through the fragmented intricacies of the banking system or at least failing to report it feels a lot like a blame game that is not only ridiculous but indicative of a misplaced frustration. Journalists are meant to report and report rigorously. They cannot prophesy and nor should they be expected to. Yes, opinion and prediction are important elements of the media landscape but they cannot be allowed to infiltrate the reporting of fact – isn’t that the kind of irresponsibility we so often castigate the tabloids for? Surely Mr Peston’s ‘warning’ about NorthernRock and the consequences should stand as a lesson that the media must report, not only with clarity but with impartiality.

The second more interesting and I think more pressing issue was raised by Gillian Tett – one of the few journalists who actually understood and attempted to report the fragility of the system – and disputed by Evan Davis when he said this:

‘It’s not the media’s job to bang a drum when no-one else is’

Forgive me Evan but I think that is exactly what the media’s job is.

Some of the most brutal problems the world faces are spoken of only in blushing whispers: suffering up-close tends to inspire awkward embarrassment or a channel change to perpetuate a sense of plausible deniability.

The media wields the awesome power of being able to drag these things out of the shadows and it is the only means by which social silence can be broken and allow education – education that is desperately needed around issues like sexual violence and STIs – to begin.

I do not expect the media to champion causes or issue warnings and I certainly don’t blame them for not producing an accurate horoscope for the financial world. But keeping quiet because it’s what everyone else is doing? That is criminal.

Posted in bbc, business, journalism, newspapers, politics, trust | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

If only the House of Lords really was like this…

Posted by Graham Hayday on November 9, 2007

… more people would engage with politics. Probably. It’s not like the Onion needs any more traffic, but if you have half a minute to spare read this.

I spent yesterday at the e-Democracy ’07 conference here in London, and the issue of Parliamentary process – and how incompatible it is with the web – was a recurring theme. I’ll share my conclusions from the event later.

In the meantime, you can find an edited version of my input into the conference (along with the research sources for my presentation and some other vaguely useful links) on this Squidoo lens.  

Posted in politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Politics 2.0 – the great divide

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 29, 2007

Apologies for the radio silence last week. I took a few days off to paint the bathroom and suchlike (as you do). But it’s back to business as usual today.

Next Thursday, I’m taking part in a workshop session at the e-Democracy ’07 event, which is organised by our friends at Headstar. The session is on ‘E-Democracy 2.0: Social networking and virtual worlds’.

I spent a few hours over the weekend (while painting) mulling over what I might say. One thing struck me (I’ll need a few more flashes of ‘insight’ if I’m to get through the session in one piece, but it’s a start). I reckon there’s a conflict between the way in which this country is governed and the fundamental principles of web 2.0.

We live in a representative democracy, in which we elect people to make decisions on our behalf.

Web 2.0 is all about conversation and collaboration: this is a mundane example, but if you comment on this blog and tell me I’m an idiot, I may change my mind about whatever it is you disagree with. If I do change my mind, I’ll tell you. Your input has had an effect – and a visible one at that. Wikis are a perhaps more significant example of how we, the previously silent majority, can collaborate in a meaningful manner.

Politicians and civil servants aren’t used to working like this. We give them a mandate at an election, and they run with it until we go to the polls again. That’s where they’re used to being judged.

But more and more of them are embracing web 2.0, which means we can tell them what we think of them on a regular basis. But are they listening? Does our input make any difference in the short-term? Can we see any changes as a result of our participation?

The answer on almost every occasion is ‘no’. Have any laws been changed as a result of the petitions people have submitted to the Number 10 website? Nope. We now have a voice, but the power still rests where it always did – in Parliament, in Whitehall, in the town hall.

Rather than becoming a way of engaging the electorate and wiping away some of the cynicism and apathy that plagues British politics, politicians’ use (or rather, misuse) of web 2.0 could actually make things worse. They’ve given us a platform to air our views, but we’re just as impotent as ever. In fact, they’re highlighting the fact. Submit a petition, and you get a nice message from the Prime Minister explaining why he won’t be doing anything about it.

They’re rubbing our noses in our own insignificance. They don’t mean to, but unless they undertake the kind of cultural change that web 2.0 requires, and truly embrace those principles of conversation and collaboration, the divide between ‘them and us’ will remain as wide as ever, and the general population will remain as cynical as ever.

Posted in politics, socialmedia, web2.0 | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

On Philip Gould, politics, business and emotions

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 14, 2007

My colleague Chris Clarke writes:

Last night, I attended an audience with Philip Gould, New Labour’s favourite pollster, organised by Lexington Communications. 

He provided some fascinating insights into the precision planning that goes into generating, and sustaining, political parties.  It struck me that many of his observations about the current climate such as the rise of global transparency, the increasing importance of ‘identity’ and the reliance on instinct and emotion can equally be applied to businesses. 

Today’s consumers expect businesses and brands to be authentic and driven by a desire to change things for the better as much as politicians.  So the challenge to business is to appeal to people’s emotions and instincts not just bang on about all things the rational things such as price and products. 

But not only was the discussion fascinating, the canapés were delicious. 

Posted in business, politics | Leave a Comment »